From the rise of the notch-wielding smartphones to the fall of small-screen televisions, the tech scene in 2018 has seen big changes impacting UK consumers.
With the new year almost upon us, we’ve taken a look back at some of this year’s highlights – Apple’s updated iPad range, LG laptops and heart-monitoring wearables all get a mention.
Keep scrolling to see how many brilliant Best Buys and dreaded Don’t Buys our expert tests have uncovered.
Last year Samsung topped the charts in our poll, as voted for by Which? readers. Cast your vote for 2019, or read on for the contenders.
Products reviewed: 170
- Best Buys: 29
- Don’t Buys: 3
- Brand to watch in 2019: TCL
Want to know the odds of picking up a top TV in 2018? It’s about one in five. Out of the 162 televisions that we tested in our lab this year, around 18% of them performed well enough to be a Best Buy. OLEDs from LG, Panasonic and Sony generally scored very well, with an average Which? test score of 74%, although not all OLEDs are equal – one scored just 53%. They’re not an option for buyers on a budget, however, with most of them costing more than £1,500.
With big-screen TVs getting increasingly popular (and more affordable), smaller sets are slowly but surely fading away. High-scoring 32-inch TVs are a rare sight in our test lab, with models of this size averaging a test score of just 52%. There are fewer on sale now, with larger 4K-capable TVs battling for your attention. With multiple Best Buy TVs and an average score of 65% for its cheaper 4K models, we’ve named LG as our TV brand of the year.
‘We’re still waiting for a brand to challenge the dominance of LG and Samsung. Hisense seemed likely, but its focus on undercutting the competition on price has come at the cost of quality. We’ll be keeping an eye on TCL, a newcomer to the UK but one of the world’s biggest TV brands. TVs are getting cheaper, but TCL could still look to undercut the big players.’ – Martin Pratt, Which? TVs expert
Want to see which TVs have topped our tests this year? Head over to our Which? Best Buy televisions page for more details.
Products reviewed: 72
- Best Buys: 22
- Don’t Buys: 1
- Brand to watch in 2019: LG
Technological advances have treated us to some delightfully speedy laptops this year, although none of our tested models of 2018 can topple our current high scorer from 2017. Still, our rigorous reviews uncovered 22 Best Buy laptops and just a single Don’t Buy.
Apple unveiled the high-end MacBook Pro (£1,749) this year, which has a high-resolution 13-inch display and a new, quad-core Intel Core i5 processor promising blistering speed. Meanwhile, LG launched its first laptop in the UK, the LG GRAM i14Z980 (£1,200), which is among the lightest 14-inch models we’ve ever tested. With buyers crying out for affordable laptops, Amazon seller iOTA swooped in to offer up the £250 Slim, and some Black Friday sales saw models drop to below £100.
‘Next year, look out for Optane memory from Intel, which should perk up laptops fitted with slower hard disks. Elsewhere, the ninth generation of Intel Core and third generation of AMD Ryzen processors should arrive, bringing even better performance. LG is the laptop brand to watch. Having released three Gram laptops in 2018, it’s clear that it’s looking to take on the premium end of the laptop market, unsettling the likes of Asus and Dell, which have lightweight Ultrabooks more or less sewn up.’ – Michael Passingham, Which? laptops expert
If you’re shopping for a new laptop, you’ll want a dazzling display on a machine that lasts all day on a single charge. See our Best Buy laptops for some recommendations.
Products reviewed: 18
- Best Buys: 5
- Don’t Buys: 0
- Brand to watch in 2019: Apple
We’ll be honest – 2018 wasn’t the most action-packed year for tablets. But although there weren’t too many headline-grabbing releases, we still saw some interesting products blurring the line between tablets and laptops.
Samsung introduced Android fans to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 (£599) and its cheaper sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 (£289). Flying the flag for iOS, Apple launched its 9.7-inch iPad (£297) at the start of the year. With graphic design and video editing in mind, Apple also upgraded its iPad Pro family – we tested the 11-inch iPad Pro (£769) and 12.9-inch iPad Pro (£969).
‘We haven’t seen much competition in the budget tablets space, which is dominated by cheap models from Amazon, Lenovo and Samsung. Samsung hasn’t released a budget tablet in more than two years, and its cheapest Galaxy Tab A 7 (£99) is still a popular choice. Disappointingly, the Apple iPad Mini 4 (£299) didn’t get an update this year and is now looking very dated, so could do with a specifications boost.’ – Michael Passingham, Which? tablets expert
Whether you’re looking for an Android tablet or an Apple iPad, don’t part with your money without checking our list of Best Buy tablets.
Products reviewed: 35
- Best Buys: 7
- Don’t Buys: 2
- Brand to watch in 2019: Apple
A trend for advanced health and fitness functionality means that GPS and heart-rate monitoring are becoming increasingly common on the latest wearables.
They’re no longer just for folk who like gadgets, and we’ve reviewed plenty of cheap wearables. Even basic models such as the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 (£25) and TCL Moveband MB20G (£20) can track calories and steps. Of course, if you’ve got the money to spend, you might be tempted by 2018’s Apple Watch Series 4 (£399), which has a larger display than its predecessor and a redesigned speaker.
‘Wearables in 2018 are packed with features – multi-sport tracking, GPS, heart-rate monitoring, cardio fitness level functions showing your VO2 max measurements, motivational nudges when you’ve been inactive for a while, guided breathing for when you’re stressed, sleep monitoring and much more. We’ve named Garmin as our brand of the year thanks to its range of feature-packed wearables, including the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music (£280), Garmin Forerunner 645 Music (£377) and Garmin Forerunner 645 (£350).’ – Christina Woodger, Which? wearables expert
Products reviewed: 41
- Best Buys: 16
- Don’t Buys: 2
- Brand to watch in 2019: Huawei
It will come as no surprise that the high-profile launches this year came courtesy of Apple and Samsung. Each released a trio of phones at eye-watering prices, although Apple wins hands down when it comes to who can charge the most. We put the Apple iPhone XR (£749), Apple iPhone XS (£999), Apple iPhone XS Max (£1,099) up against the Samsung Galaxy S9 (£639), Samsung Galaxy S9+ (£869) and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (£899) in our lab tests – and it’s fair to say there was a clear winner.
But if there’s one clear trend our tests have revealed in 2018, it’s that you don’t need to spend a huge amount to grab yourself a Best Buy mobile phone. Mid-range phones have come a long way this year, with smartphones from Huawei such as the Huawei P20 (£489) and Huawei Honor 10 (£370) helping the Chinese brand to zoom past Apple for global handset sales. Next year, we expect to see a rise in the number of mobiles with edge-to-edge displays and in-display fingerprint sensors. Keep an eye out for smartphones with front-facing ‘pinhole’ cameras, which will eliminate the need for a display notch.
‘2018 has been a great year for smartphones. We’ve seen brands like Huawei, OnePlus and Samsung start to close the gap between premium and mid-range phones with high specs. As the year is drawing to a close, we’re starting to see that some of the best phones on the market are getting cheaper, which may continue now that Chinese megabrand, Xiaomi has come to the UK.’ – Louise Muyanja, Which? smartphones expert
Whatever your budget, have a look at our Best Buy smartphones to see which mobiles are a joy to use.
Wireless and Bluetooth speakers
Products reviewed: 59
- Best Buys: 7
- Don’t Buys: 5
- Brand to watch in 2019: Samsung
Smart speakers with voice assistants, which can manage your schedule and control other internet-enabled gadgets, have dominated the audio world in 2018.
We got our hands on the Apple HomePod (£279) at the start of the year. This wireless speaker uses Siri to answer your questions, and multi-room support means you can link two HomePods together for a stereo experience. The cheaper Polk Audio Assist (£179) was launched in the summer; it runs on Google Assistant to let you control it with voice commands while you’re sitting on the sofa. Our tests also saw a number of sub-£100 speakers put through their paces, including the Ikea Eneby (£80) and Sony SRS-XB31 (£89).
‘This has been a landmark year for wireless speakers, with major launches including many smart speakers with voice assistants. Headline portable speaker launches also included the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 (£125), JBL Charge 4 (£160), Sony’s latest Extra Bass speakers including the SRS-XB31 (£89) and Jam’s portable speakers including the Jam Hang Around (£50). Samsung however has been noticeably quiet on launching a smart speaker with a voice assistant built-in – this is one brand to watch for in 2019.’ – Oliver Trebilcock, Which? audio expert
Sort through the duds with our full range of Which? Best Buy wireless and Bluetooth speakers.
Products reviewed: 20
- Don’t Buys: 4
- Brand to watch in 2019: Transcend
This year we tested a selection of dash cams from brands including Motorola, Philips and RAC. After spending the past few years as the UK’s number one retailer of dash cams, Halfords launched four dash cams of its own – the HDC100 (£39), HDC200 (£49), HDC300 (£69) and HDC400 (£85).
Once 2019 rolls around, we expect to see dash cams with built-in GPS and wi-fi become increasingly popular. Dual-dash cams, which are something of a rarity at the moment, could also gain traction.
‘There have been some interesting developments this year, with automative retailer Halfords entering the dash cams market with features like fatigue alert and headlight reminders. We also tested our second 4K dash cam, the Blackvue DR900S-1CH (£429), which may signal that these will become more common in 2019. But with all this focus on extras, some brands are still struggling to master the basics of quality footage.’ – Louise Muyanja, Which? dash cams expert
Whether you want to learn about GPS capabilities, 4K video or parking mode, we use our comprehensive real-world testing to ensure that you purchase a dash cam you can rely on. See our full range of dash cam reviews.
Products reviewed: 41
- Best Buys: 2
- Don’t Buys: 21
- Brand to watch in 2019: Sennheiser
Buying a top-notch pair of headphones can be quite a task. Our headphone tests for sound quality uncovered just two pairs of Best Buy headphones over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, our expert listening panel had to endure 21 pairs of Don’t Buys, many being some of the latest in-ear wireless headphones, noting unavoidable problems with comfort and tinny audio.
Most major headphone brands have released so-called ‘truly wireless’ models this year, which are replacing traditional wired in-ear headphones. Buying a pair of truly wireless headphones means you won’t have to deal with a mess of cables, which is a nice bonus. This year, we gave the Samsung Gear Icon X (£179) and Bose Soundsport Free (£167) headphones a go. Next year could be big for Sennheiser, as we’ll be testing the truly wireless Sennheiser Momentum headphones (£199).
‘This year we’ve seen our highest-scoring pair of headphones dethroned, with a new arrival getting our first-ever 90% score. However, the latest trends for ever smaller pairs of in-ear headphones appear to have come at the cost of sound quality and comfort, with many pairs branded Don’t Buys. There’s only one major brand we’ve yet to review a truly wireless pair of headphones for – see whether the high-end Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless headphones set the standard early in 2019.’ – Oliver Trebilcock, Which? headphones expert
Steer clear of Don’t Buy headphones this Christmas and enlist the help of our expert headphone reviews. See our Best Buy headphones for the best around.
Have your say
Which of the tech brands that have impressed our experts would get your vote for the best brand of 2018?